HUPC Volunteers for Wilderness Monitoring Effort
Members and friends of HUPC spent three days in late August assisting the Kamas Ranger District [KRD] of the Wasatch Cache National Forest with site specific monitoring of several key areas in the High Uintas Wilderness [HUW]. The goal was to test two protocols which addressed the presence of available fire wood and actual campsite impacts arising from recreational camping. The following four test areas were studied: Jordan Lake in Naturalist Basin, Daynes and Dean L akes in Four Lakes Basin, and Pinto Lake. The campsite and available wood protocols were derived from several sources and re-formulated by KRD Rangers Mead Hargis and Barb Walker. The long term goal is to develop wilderness monitoring protocols which can be used throughout the HUW to quantitatively assess when a specific area in the wilderness has been impacted by too much or inappropriate recreational camping use. Specific management actions can then be taken to minimize future impacts and allow the resource to recover, i.e., prohibition of open camp fires, closure of specific campsites near popular destinations, suggestions from wilderness rangers on alternative camping and destination sites.
We backpacked to a base campsite near Jordan Lake on Friday morning. The Forest Service provided us with tents, sleeping pads, filtered water and good food for our three day stay. This was greatly appreciated as it made our pack loads much lighter for the six mile walk to Naturalist Basin. We spent a few hours Friday afternoon reviewing, training and practicing the protocols. After a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning three teams set out to our target destinations. Saturday was a full day of hiking, surveying, data taking, and a return hike to base camp. Some of us made it before the rain and darkness closed in and, unfortunately, some of us didn't. But, in the end, everyone enjoyed Saturday night in a warm and dry sleeping bag and a leisurely hike out on rainy Sunday.
In the process of doing our surveys we made several key observations that will probably be reflected in the revised protocols. One key observation was that the fire wood availability protocol should probably be modified to include several incidentally related manifestations of intensive firewood use, i.e., the presence of chopped down tree stumps and the removal of dead branches from standing trees near campsites. Also of great interest was the finding that the control firewood transects done in areas away from campsites indicated very little available fire wood. This makes a lot of sense in the slowly growing spruce forests at the higher elevations of Naturalist Basin and Four Lakes Basin. It may well be that a key control study of general firewood availability as a function of elevation from 10,000 to 11,000 feet should be done to assess if there is a cut-off elevation above which camp fires should be strongly discouraged or even prohibited.
Weather permitting, we plan to go back to Naturalist Basin in October to test and revise our protocols one more time before the snow flies. Do you need an excuse to spend a weekend backpacking one more time this year in the Uintas? Please join us for some camaraderie and exercise doing something important to preserve our wilderness heritage. Let me know if you would like to participate: 801.583.4041 Thanks to the Wasatch Cache National Forest, Mead Hargis and Barb Walker for all the logistical support and to our participants: Marty and Jim Steitz, Lynette, Sawyer, and Rhett Brooks, David Andreyak, Sha-Nan Chen, and Rick Van Wagenen.
Rick Van Wagenen, HUPC Board Member